HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – What Happened in the Primary Election?


By Kelly Moran


What Happened in the Primary Election?
The results of September’s primary election were unusual, and the Puna district of the Big Island had a lot to do with that.

Republicans who won their party’s nominations were candidates widely expected to win; but the Democrats’ primary generated some surprises.  The incumbent governor, Democrat Neil Abercrombie, running for re-nomination, was soundly defeated by the president of the State Senate, David Ige.  (In conceding, Abercrombie fully endorsed Ige for November’s general election against the Republican former Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona, and former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hanneman, a Democrat who’s running as an independent.)

This unprecedented rejection of a sitting governor in his party’s primary is hard to explain.  Abercrombie claimed that he lost because Republicans crossed over to vote against him.  It’s true that they were angered when he called for a special legislative session to enact Hawaii’s same-sex marriage law – but Ige favored, pushed for and voted for that law, too.  More likely, Abercrombe had alienated three key Democratic voting blocs that had supported him during his long career: the teachers’ unions, after unpleasant contract negotiations; older voters, by asking legislators to tax private pensions (they refused); and Americans of Japanese ancestry (AJAs), by naming his Lieutenant Governor, Brian Schatz, to the U.S. Senate seat vacated when longtime Senator Daniel K. Inouye died last year.  This was apparently contrary to what some of them believed was Inouye’s dying wish: that the job should go to U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa, who is AJA.

Hanabusa challenged Schatz in the primary for it, and pre-election polls differed on who was ahead.  (This election was only for filling the two remaining years of Inouye’s term.  A full six-year term will be contested in 2016.)  On primary election day, some early returns showed Hanabusa leading, but by the final count, Schatz emerged about 1,500 votes ahead.

However, two precincts in Puna had not been able to vote that day – their polling places were closed due to the damage wrought by Hurricane Iselle a few days before.  Some absentee ballots from those precincts had been submitted, and were included in the day’s count.  But around 6,000 eligible voters there had not yet voted.  The state’s election office said it would mail out absentee ballots to them, but – with roads still blocked – that could not be done.  So a make-up election was scheduled for a date two weeks later.  That – at least in theory – meant that those Puna voters would decide the primary.

But could they really have changed the outcome?

The news media generally characterized the election as being Puna’s to decide, but some dissenters felt that those voters could not have made a difference.  Nearly everyone feels that the state elections office made inconsistent decisions, and could have done a better job explaining Hawaii’s vote-counting rules and election challenges.

So the Big Island Press Club is going to explore these issues in a 90-minute panel discussion in Hilo.  It will begin at noon on Friday October 10, at Restaurant Kenichi, 684 Kilauea Ave.  Tickets are $19.50, which also includes a buffet lunch.

The four panelists are all news media professionals.

Kathleen A. Frankovic was, for more than 30 years, the chief public-opinion pollster for CBS Television Network News.  [Full disclosure: Kathy retired to Hilo, and is one of my home-buyer clients.]

Kathleen Frankovic

Kathleen Frankovic


Chad Blair is a reporter for Honolulu Civil Beat, and has previously reported for Pacific Business News and Hawaii Public Radio.

2013 July 23 Gridiron  SA photo by Craig T. Kojima

Chad Blair:  2013 July 23 Gridiron  SA photo by Craig T. Kojima


Todd Belt is a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, and the author of several books on elections and mass media.

Todd Belt

Todd Belt


Moderating the panel is Nancy Cook Lauer, a reporter for West Hawaii Today, and current President of the Big Island Press Club.

Nancy Cook Lauer

Nancy Cook Lauer


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